Friday, December 31, 2004

Ethics and God

One of the great, and original, bloggers is Steve den Beste of USS Clueless fame. He is a creative and analytical thinker possessed of a singularly clear writing style. Sadly for the rest of us, he decided he had enough and just up and quit.

But his essays are still available, and still thought provoking. One such is Ethics can't be based on belief in God.

Religionists are particularly inclined to assert that without a Supreme Being, ethics and morality are impossible. The reasons for this assertion are various, but cluster around two considerations: the threat of eternal punishment keeps wayward humans in line, and the notion that any sense of ethics is God-given:

Since this ethics comes from God (or from several such Gods) then it has particular meaning – it is literally sacred – and must be followed by all believers in that faith. And often these ethical systems are backed by threats of punishment for those who violate them, and promises of reward for those who do not violate them.

Certainly this is true of Christianity, the predominant religion of the United States. The received wisdom is encompassed in the teachings of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, and in its current incarnation most Christians believe that those following the teachings will end up in Heaven and those who seriously violate them will end up in Hell.

Ignoring for the moment that the reason for the plethora of religions throughout History is their mutual exclusivity, and the consequent problem of deciding just which one is literally sacred amongst the dross, God-based ethics begs a fundamental question, posed by the Greeks. Does an act have an inherent ethical value?

Is an act right because God says it is right, or does God say it is right because it is right? In other words, either (1) the act has no inherent ethical value, but is assigned a value of "right" or "wrong" solely based on an arbitrary edict from God, or (2) God recognizes the inherent value of the act and then passes this on to us as received wisdom.

Whichever of these a Christian (or any other believer in a religion based on deities) chooses leaves him in a bind. If "wrong" acts are not inherently wrong, but only wrong because of God's arbitrary edicts, then the Christian must face the possibility that God could change His mind. God could appear tomorrow, ten miles high, astride Jerusalem and announce in a booming voice that henceforth only murderers and torturers would be permitted into heaven, that slavery was a good thing*, that genocide was noble and that anyone who helped a neighbor in need would burn in Hell for all eternity.

It does no good to argue that God would not actually do this; who are you to say what God will do? If acts have no inherent ethical value, God could do this, and instantly turn every concept of right and wrong upside down.

I suspect most, if not all, Christians (I use the term here as Mr. den Beste did--shorthand to identify any adherent of deity-based ethics, keeping in mind this blog's audience comes from predominantly Christian nation) would assert that such a thing is out of the question.


But that means God has only put His imprimatur on an act's pre-existing ethical value.

God is not the source of the ethical value of the act, but only a convenient conduit by which we learn of that ethical value.

This gives us the ethical permanence we desire, but at the expense of removing God's role in it. For since the ethical value of the act exists independent of God's declaration, then it would exist even if there were no God at all.

How does a deist--keep in mind there is no difference between a deist, agnostic, and atheist save for spelling--square this circle?

With a, for some, ugly resort to utilitarianism. A lone human makes no more sense than a lone ant. Ethics is the embodiment of the modus vivendi humans reach to live in social groups, and exists always as a tension between unsustainable absolute self interest, and absolute self-sacrifice that is hostage to the first defector (see also Pacifism, impossibility of).

Such ethics is situationally dependent, and materially justified. What works is what's right. The classic example is Christianity's approach to interest--forbidden prior to wars between Italian city states [dates fail me here, but let's say circa 1200AD]. Permitted after one city state was able to marshal superior military forces through the monetary infusion resulting from granting said interest. What worked became right.

At best, religion acts as a flywheel in resisting precipitous change. At worst, sacred scripture actively sometimes justifies what we mere humans now view as evil. Slavery, anyone?

So far from being indispensible, God given ethics are scarcely more than icing on the human cake.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Holiday Hiatus

I wish all of the Daily Duck contributors and readers a happy Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanza, and the best for the New Year! I will be in Phoenix from the 23rd until New Years eve, and will resume posting in 2005.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Defusing the Culture War

Will Wilkinson, who is a policy analyst for the Cato Institute as well as proprietor of The Fly Bottle blog, likens the ongoing culture war over Evolution in public schools to the problem of putting warning labels on foods in his article at

When ninth graders in Cobb County, Georgia grudgingly withdraw from their backpacks copies of Biology, by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine, they are faced with an “advisory” sticker hinting at dark forces at work within. It reads: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

The sticker is there because the Cobb County school board put it there. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued. Why make a federal case of it? The ACLU argues that since the sticker picks on evolution, and evolution alone, there are grounds to believe that the sly stickering forces seek to sneak religious doctrine into the curriculum. That, says the ACLU, is illegal. Pro-science anti-stickerites argue, correctly, that evolution is both a theory and a fact. And there is no good reason to exhort students to be open-minded, careful, and critical about evolution in particular. Students should approach all topics with such an admirable, enlightened spirit.

But the Cobb County controversy is not really about the merits of the theory of evolution, or whether all the alternatives are, as the ACLU argues, motivated by religious faith. The bigger fight is about who gets to impose their beliefs on whom. It’s just the latest symptom of a deeper illness that necessarily afflicts a system of publicly provided education.

Imagine you live in a town where you are required to pay several thousand dollars of taxes each year into a public fund that is used to buy food for the entire community. There is a publicly elected “Menu Board” that determines each year’s offerings. You wanted rye this year? Sorry! The Board voted for Wonder Bread. Again! You could, in principle, opt out of the public food system and buy rye, pumpernickel, or seven grain oat-nut crunch at a fancy private store. But you’ve already paid thousands in taxes, and can’t afford to pay twice for everything you eat. The Menu Board picks it. You eat it.

Imagine the controversy. Vegetarians (“You’ll get lentil loaf and like it!”) will lock horns with the Atkins lobby (“You can have my bacon when you pry it from my dead cold fingers!”) to wrest control of the Menu Board. The kosher set will fight against shrimp-lovers; Mormons will rail against the Starbucks crowd; Hindus will agitate against the forces of barbeque.

Public school boards and curriculum committees are like menu boards for our children’s minds. Isn’t what we teach our children more important than what we feed them? Bitter and divisive conflict over curriculum is inevitable. Miller and Levine’s Biology is to creationists what pork is to Muslims. Getting a Cobb County sticker with your biology book is like getting a little note with your pork chop: “Warning: Not Halal.”

Wilkinson's solution to the problem is to provide school vouchers to parents so that they can make the menu choices for their own child's minds. I tend to agree. Some of the nastiest battles of the Culture Wars have centered around who controls the public schools. Religious parents object to moral and academic subjects that do not align with their religious values. Secular parents do not want religion forced onto their children, or to have their children to be singled out for non-participation in organized prayer. These issues of control also divide along political lines as well as religious, when teachers or school boards take it upon themselves to promote particular political or social viewpoints, such as anti-military, or pro-gay marriage views.

Vouchers can act as a safety valve to de-fuse many of these controversies, and would serve the interests of parents on all sides of these cultural divides. It would also send a very strong message to the special interest groups that have been fighting to gain control of school policy agendas by placing the responsibility and the authority for the moral and cultural development of children squarely in the hands of parents.

More on Free Will

Max Borders posts his take on if we have free will at TechCentralStation. In short - we don't:

"Am I free?" you may ask. First, the bad news: no, you're not.

What you call making choices or exercising your Free Will is an illusion. I realize this seems highly counterintuitive, even absurd to suggest. But the following considerations may convince you that you are not, indeed, free.

First, we must agree that your body (and brain) is made up entirely of physical atoms and molecules. In other words, there is no supernatural essence like a "spirit" that animates your physical body. If we cannot agree on this, the rest of this article is moot.

So far, so good:

Now, all of those atoms that make up your body are subject to certain regularities we might call the laws of nature. These are the same sorts of regularities that are exhibited when you pick up an object and it falls after you let go (as you would reasonably expect it to). Or, if you were to push your hand against your coffee cup, you would expect it to move along your desktop. We think similar "nomic" or law-like regularities apply to human beings, as we are a part of the universe by virtue of being physical in our makeup. Another way of talking about all of this is the familiar
language of "cause and effect."

There are no causeless effects, it seems -- at least at the macro-level we live in from day to day. Chairs don't fly up into the air and coffee cups don't move across desktops unless some force acts upon them -- "causing" them to move.

So, our bodies and brains are subject to causal laws, as well. Even though the myriad cause-and-effect chains happening in the human body are extremely complex, it is not possible for us to break these causal laws just because we're human. The same can be said for apes, cats, chickens, bugs and bacteria, as all are creatures that belong to the causal-physical world.

Another way to define causation is to say: everything that happens is a result of some antecedent event. That means every single thing that happens in our bodies, from neuronal firing to DNA replication, is an event that is caused. If we were to extend these processes backwards in time, we would find these same regularities hold, otherwise the universe would have turned out to be a place of complete disorder and we would never have evolved.

Here's the problem. In our everyday language, we say we "choose" tea over coffee, or we "make a decision" to turn left or right. But since all of our so-called decisions take place in our physical brains, we are confronted with a very deep problem. When we say we make a choice, aren't we committing ourselves to what I call "self-starter theory?"

This is where he makes the natural dualist perception split. Since we have the ability of self-reference, or the ability to think about ourselves, as if we are an external observer to our mind and body at work, it is natural to assume that we are separate. Dualism is the illusion, the observer inside the mind is the illusion. There is no distinction between saying we choose tea over coffee, and our physical brains following a deterministic physical process resulting in the choice of tea. They are two aspects of the same process. The conscious experience of choosing tea is the subjective sensation of the physical process which results in the selection of tea. Because we both experience that conscious sensation "first hand" and at the same time have the sensation of observing ourselves in action as if as a detatched observer, we fall under the illusion that the conscious "I" is separate, and acts on, the physical mind, as a user acts on a computer keyboard.

It is a question of identity. What do we mean when we say "I"? What does our identity refer to, if not our mind and body? Why is the default, intuitive reflex to "disown" the body?

Planned Obsolescence

In the seemingly endless fight between Evolutionists, and those who take theological umbrage at Evolution, root and branch, the former roll out the evidence, and the latter yearn--so far in vain--for that single, knockout blow.

Ironically, though knockout blow there might be, the punch is coming from the Evolutionist side. As explained in the recent NPR piece As Y Chromosome Shrinks, End of Men Pondered there have not always been, nor need there always be, men.

In addition to being counterintuitve, speaking as an admitted guy-person, this is decidedly unwelcome news. Whither babies without men?

It gets even more unwelcome. This is where the counterintuitive part comes in. Not all species require men, and I'm not talking just about the French here. In fact in many species--again, the French are not the only examples--the men aren't male. Turtles, for example, have managed this feat. Male turtles are females incubated at a different temperature.

While the genesis of sex is a singular mystery, the advent of genetic males is less so. About 300 million years ago--insert "so the theory goes" caveat here--a species in the Therodont line of dinosaurs suffered/lucked into a mutation in the prevailing XX layout relying on temperature to an XY layout: males became genetically distinct.

Duck, here comes the roundhouse punch.

At that long distant time, the both the X & Y genes were the same size--identical except for that mutation. NB--there are XXs, otherwise known as the source of all that is perfect in life. And XYs. The rest of us. But there are no YYs, which means the Y chromosome, unlike the X, never exists as a matched set in order to do error correction.

The X chromosome has about 1000 genes. The Y, once also 1000 genes long has, absent robust repair mechanisms, become today a mere, trivial, vanishing, nearly vestigial, 78. Good for virtually nothing except producing sperm cells.

Now this is just the sort of stumbling nonsense one should expect from shambolic evolution: extinction via a whimper instead of a bang.

But as a sign of Intelligent Design? How the heck smart is this?

The better writers generally avoid introducing something new in the conclusion, but not suffering that burden, I am not deterred. In case your ethical argument against embryonic stem cell research needs bolstering, know this: researchers have recently managed to use those stem cells to create the business end of mouse sperm cells, and successfully fertilized mouse eggs with them.

As I write, it takes men to create sperm cells. But not if this research reaches fruition. Once those stem cells get going, they just don't quit.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Bubble Booms on

I have been quite bearish on the economy and equity markets for the last 2 years, but I am always looking for convincing reasons to be less so. The best argument I've run across yet to believe that the bull market in equities is not over is by Harry S Dent, Jr. Harry is interviewed by Jim Puplava on the Financial Sense newshour. It is worth listening to.

Mr Dent draws the parallel between the 00 decade and the 1920's. We all know that the period from 1925 to 1929 gave us a raging bull market bubble, but what most people are unaware of is that this was preceeded by a bubble market and then a crash in the early 1920s. Dent points our that this period was both a demographic and a technological boom. The new technologies that spawned that bubble market, automobiles, electricity, radio, etc, followed an "S" shaped adoption curve, which caused an initial boom as these technologies grew to near 50% adoption, then a bust which was caused by a shakeout and consolidation of the best companies in those markets, and then a larger bubble market as these technologies were driven into the economy towards a 90% adoption. He sees the same thing in store for the computer & communications technology revolution that started to boom in 1995. The second part of that boom, the drive to 90% adoption, will take place between 2005 and 2009.

The second force that Dent sees driving a bubble boom for the next four years will be the peaking of the baby boom demographic bubble. His approach relies on deterministic demographic factors which point to 2009 being the peak spending year for boomers.

Before you get too excited, Dent foresees a very sizeable bear market following on the completion of this bubble boom, comparable in extent to the 1930s Great Depression, at least as far as the equity markets are concerned. He sees the Dow peaking at 40,000 in 2009, but losing up to 80% of that value over the next 10 years, back down to 8,000 or so. A sobering thought, but also a chance to profit from one more bubble, possibly the greatest bubble, before this technological/demographics cycle is through. If you missed out on the Internet bubble, you might want to give an ear to Harry Dent.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

How Complex Systems Fail

The title to this post refers to a treatise by Richard I Cook, MD, of the Cognitive Technologies Laboratory at the University of Chicago. It is a fascinating take on how humans interact with complex systems, with the main goal being to change the operations of the systems to stave off failure. The irony of such efforts is that the systems invariably become more complex, with the inevitable outcome that failure is postponed at the cost of even greater consequences when failure does arrive.

As an exercise in applying the rules of complex systems developed by Cook, Jim Willie describes the current state of the global economy, and the precarious nature of the the patches, plugs and stalling tactics engineered by central bankers, governments and financial institutions to stave off the inevitable recession that is needed to re-balance the economy:

Sometimes, unfortunately, a complex system fails. Despite the best efforts to keep an evolving system together through coordinated management, and attempts to provide fail safe mechanisms along its evolutionary path, the system can weaken, degrade, and fail. Due to its enormity and multi-faceted nature, changes occur slowly and are perceived to evolve in an orderly manner. A strange public trust is instilled along the pathogenesis of breakdown, but official statements, encouragement, and assurance of constant tweaks to controls put aside public concern. The consequential impact from the potential failure can be beyond measure. Hyperbolic words such as "enormous" or "magnificent" or "staggering" really fall short in their description of the fallout damage. Experience through past crises, and reactions to them, tend to render the system more fragile and weakened, not more secure and efficient. It becomes more subject to stagnation and a pathetic state of near breakdown, which ironically comes to be accepted as the "normal" situation. Successive crises have indeed worsened over time. A worthwhile exercise might be to review a clinical treatise on the nature and evaluation of systemic failure.

The US Economy, stock & bond markets, futures contracts leveraged to them, and great derivative gears hold together the USDollar, the US Treasury Bonds, mortgages, major metals & energy commodities, and more. Many devices are designed to keep a limiting cap on prices and rates, like a huge rooftop atop a house or giant pyramid shrubs surrounding it. The entire system grows to become tremendously complex. It has evolved over several decades, and has responded to numerous unintended disturbances. Central banks provide the backdrop fail safe in a highly visible overt fashion. Derivatives provide the foundation underpinning in more secretive collusive fashion. System foundations date back to the post-Depression, post-WWII era. Latent growth and solidification took place until the gold anchor was abandoned, as the Bretton Woods Accord linking the USDollar to gold was defaulted in 1971. Most crises date back to that key event in their origins, a simple fact almost uniformly overlooked by a corrupted economic advisory function to this day. Shocks have been endured in many recent years. Small shocks occur almost on a monthly basis. The system continues, so the public regards the system as functionally capably. How many times must we hear "the system has not broken yet" ?
The United States has fully embraced the mantle to underwrite any and all international financial or economic accidents. We do not seem to adapt to change. Instead, we apply old methods to new situations and expect similar outcomes as in the past. The system has been forced to adapt during a time when the normal business cycle has been altered, if not broken. The presence of China stands clearly as the greatest new wrinkle within the system.

In The Fatal Conceit, F A Hayek posed that the major failing of socialist philosophies was the conceit that man-made schemes to plan economic activity could succeed at addressing the myriad, changing needs that a large, complex society would generate over time, whereas such needs were beyond the ability of any single set of planners to comprehend and control. You have to wonder if the current crop of economic thinkers running the show in the Administration, on Wall Street or in the Federal Reserve has come down with such a conceit. But it is the nature of democratic nations that economic cycles will become the target of governmental attempts at regulation and control. People, if given a vote, will expect their representatives to "do something" about the painful consequences of "creative destruction", that necessary renewal process that a growing economy must undergo.

Another timely book describing the folly of trying to tame the markets is When Genius Failed, the Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein.

No Such Thing as a Good Theory That Doesn’t Work in Practice

By Jeff Guinn

NPR’s Morning Edition of 6 December, UCLA Law Professor Richard Sander got a chance to explain his controversial paper A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools, which had the temerity to suggest that allowing people into situations for which they aren’t qualified is very likely to lead to some not very good things. The paper itself is quite lengthy, but the summary makes the case pretty clearly:

Despite the prevalence of affirmative action policies in higher education, scholars are only beginning to study seriously the relative costs and benefits of racial preferences in admissions. The recent development of several large, longitudinal datasets on law students and lawyers has made it possible to ask more ambitious questions about the operation and effects of these policies. A Systemic Analysis asks a number of these questions, and reports surprising answers. (This article focuses only on blacks and whites.)

--First, the levels of racial preferences at American law schools are very large and remarkably homogenous across institutions, operating in ways that are generally hard to distinguish from racially segregated admissions.

--Second, black students admitted through preferences generally have quite low grades in law school – not because of any racial characteristic, but because the preferences themselves put them at an enormous academic disadvantage. The median black student starting law school in 1991 received first-year grades comparable to a white student at the 7 th or 8 th percentile.

--Third, these low grades substantially handicap black students in their efforts to complete law school and pass the bar. Only 45% of black law students in the 1991 cohort completed law school and passed the bar on their first attempt; in the absence of preferential admissions, I estimate that this rate would rise to 74%.

--Fourth, the job market benefits of attending an elite school have been substantially overrated; regression analysis of job market data strongly suggests that most black lawyers entering the job market would have higher earnings in the absence of preferential admissions, because better grades would generally trump the costs in prestige.

--Fifth, it is far from clear that racial preferences actually cause the legal education system to produce a larger number of black lawyers. Careful analysis indicates that 86% of blacks currently enrolled in law schools would have been admitted to some law school under race-blind policies, and the much lower attrition rates that would prevail in a race-blind regime would probably produce larger cohorts of black lawyers than the current system of preferences produces.

In the case of blacks, at least, the objective costs of preferential admissions appear to substantially outweigh the benefits. The basic theory driving many of these findings is known as the “academic mismatch” mechanism; attending an advanced school where one’s credentials are far below those of one’s peers has a variety of negative effects on learning, motivation, and goals that harm the beneficiary of the preference. Over the past several years, a wide range of scholars have documented the operation of the mismatch mechanism in a number of fields of higher education.

Now all of this seems straightforward enough, and a facet of affirmative action that would given even the most committed proponents pause.

Apparently, though, it isn’t. The opposite point of view came from Harvard Law Professor. The jaw dropping moment came when said professor maintained that there is “no statistically significant correlation between ... undergraduate GPA, LSAT and law school results".

Admissions, did you get the memo? You are out of a job.

People can debate the merits of group identity vs. individual merit, or moral hazard vs. making up for past injustices, or whether the concept of racial diversity is itself racist, but using Dr. Sanders paper highlights the problem with liberalism: solutions that make you feel good often don’t have anything to do with the problem. College admissions boards are not racist hot beds to be brought to heel; they aren’t the problem, the solution doesn’t lie with them. But pretending it does takes some pressure off the criminally inadequate schools afflicting so many African Americans.

Welcoming Jeff Guinn to the Daily Duck

As a result of my never ending quest to bring the best in intelligent commentary to the Daily Duck, I am happy to announce that Jeff Guinn, a regular commentator at the BrothersJudd Blog, will be joining the DD. Jeff, welcome aboard!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Does Free Will Matter? Or, does Matter Free Will?

I've been engaged in a marathon session of free-will-jitsu at the BrothersJudd Blog with the ever-unpindownable Orrin Judd and a cast of many, including DailyDuck regular Jeff Guinn. Check it out. I'm not sure what the final count of comments was, but I believe that it exceeded the BroJudd's previous record for a single posting of 250 or so.

I had posted my own view on free will on the October 17th edition of the DailyDuck, and this go-round allowed me a chance to hone my view to a more concise statement. Here is the short version of my earlier argument, from the BrothersJudd blog:

If we are entirely materialistic beings, then we can be modeled. If we can be modeled, then we don't have free will.

We are modeled, insurance companies and marketers do it all the time. They aren't perfect models, they can't predict what you or I will do at every instance, but at an aggregate, statistical level they are pretty good.

Before you respond, I would note that the two most common responses don't work. "Complexity" is just a way of saying that our models aren't there yet, but will be soon.

That's what they said 30 years ago about artificial intelligence and weather forecasting. You're misinterpreting what the theory of Complexity says. Models are appriximations, they apply rules to a subset of the data variables that make up a system, and they give a rough approximation of the behavior of the system, but it is based on linear thinking. If you take into account 50% of the variables, you should be able to model the system within 50% accuracy, or so. But Compexity throws those sort of assumptions out the window, tiny changes in a few variables can lead to massive changes in the behavior of the system. Don't count on human behavoir being exactly modeled anytime soon.

But you are right, in theory, that you should be able to model a physical system with a physical system. You just need a physical system that is of equal complexity and state to the system you are modeling. You'd need an exact duplicate of you to model you. You are your own model.

Other people try to say that our brains incorporate a quantum computer capable of true randomness. This might be the only argument on which Occams' Razor cuts in favor of G-d.

Is randomness really the attribute that you want to equate with freedom? So the more random a person's behavior is, the more free will he possesses? People who act that way in our society tend to get locked up in an asylum. We don't judge personal and mental advancement by randomness, but by predictability. To have an identity, to be human is to be predictable.

I understand how you are defining free will, and based on that definition, I agree with you that material beings don't have free will. But my point is that that definition of freedom, based on randomness and perfect unpredictability, is a ridiculous and non-sensical definition. It is a case of wanting to have your metaphysical cake and eating it too.

To have a will, or even a personality, implies that there is a somewhat permanent, fixed component to your being, a non-random component. A will is a fixed set of goals and desires that a being uses to direct its behavior. In order to have a discernible will, a being has to be limited, its freedom constricted. It can't act to circumstances in a purely random fashion. But based on that will, if it has the freedom to pursue actions to realize the goals of that will regardless of other physical factors and obstacles, then it is a free will.

Think of it this way. You are free to do what you want. But are you free to want what you want?

It is fascinating how worked up people will get over this question, which has haunted philosophers for ages, without solution. It stirs so much passion because it gets at the very root of our identity. Are we "just" matter, or are we more than that? I put "just" in quotes because it continues to baffle me why believers so denigrate this stuff we call matter, if it can perform all the wonderful feats of magic that we see unfold before us in the vast expanse of space, on the land and in the oceans, and in our bodies and our minds. Materialism doesn't mean we have to devalue man to the status of matter, we have to elevate matter to the status it deserves as the stuff of life. Of course, it spells the limits of man. A material man does not live in eternity. But again, this question gets at the root of how we think of ourselves. Again, from the BrothersJudd blog discussion (italicized text is by other participants) :

What is faith? "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." That's how the New Testament answers it. There's universal truth and applicability to these words. Whether its faith that "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" or that somehow natural processes just came together and evolved (or even believe that that extra-terrestrials foundedlife here), it's all about faith.

This definition of faith doesn't totally suffice. Does it allow room for everything hoped for? I think not, otherwise we would all have faith that God will grant us eternal paradise irregardless of our conduct on earth or on what we believe. Faith is subject to a reality check on the part of the believer, based on his view of reality, or "meta-reality" in the case of metaphysics.

And our take on meta-reality is an extension of our take on reality, our experience of things seen. We expect there to be some continuity between the two, at least at the level of basic principles. We don't expect bad to be good and good to be bad when we arrive there, noone imagines that the world beyond is a bizarro world.

This is where I parted company with the traditional Christian view of the next world. A world where the population of souls is split between a group that will experience eternal unremitting bliss, and a group that will experience eternal unremitting misery is just such a bizarro world. Even if you eliminate Hell, and just try to imagine human souls existing in a state of infinite bliss, it doesn't survive a serious examination.

Such a world is stasis. The infinite experience of a single emotion is timeless, there would be no sense of time, no sense of change. I would argue that there would be no sense of anything. Conscousness is an experience of change, of alternating states of pleasure, pain, boredom, wonder, excitement, calm. Our personality, our identity, our sense of existence relies on time and change. Our sense of pleasure is dependent on the existence of pain, our sense of hope requires an experience of despair. There is no consciousness without it.

Also, our sense of identity, our "me-ness" is tied up in our bodies, and the particular nature that the unique configuration that our mental neurons gives each of us. Without the body, without the limitations and quirks that our individual make-up gives us, in what sense do we have an identity? Given there is some spirit of me that survives the destruction of my body, and given that it ascends to some state of eternal, timeless bliss, in what sense is it "me"?

I don't think I won any converts, but a good time was had by all.